God’s first draft

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This week’s Torah portion is Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11.

Va’etchanan overflows with richness. There are the words of the Sh’ma, often referred to as the watchword of our faith, along with the V’ahavta, the commandment to love God with our heart, soul and might.


There is the plea of Moses with God to let him enter the Promised Land. There is the repetition of the words melamed (“to teach”) and avar (“to pass over”). Probably what is most striking about this portion is the repetition of the Ten Commandments, first uttered in Exodus.

But these 10 commandments are slightly different than what was presented earlier at Mount Sinai. We are taught to observe Shabbat, whereas earlier we were encouraged to remember Shabbat. The justification for Shabbat this time is the exodus from Egypt, whereas before we were commanded to obey the Sabbath due to the blessing of creation.

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We could give this difference a textual-historical explanation. The documentary hypothesis is a form of source criticism that aims to explain the origin and composition of the Hebrew Bible. It divides the text of the Torah into different source documents. According to this theory, the source text for the Ten Commandments in Exodus comes from the Priestly source, more commonly referred to as P. The origin of the source in Deuteronomy is D, also referred to as the Deuteronomic source.

This is a common explanation, but frankly, it is one that leaves me cold. The gift of Torah is that it is a mirror into our lives. The truth of Torah requires a little more digging. So, let us ask the question: what can these textual differences teach us?


To help me, I turned to my friend and teacher David Ebenbach, who years ago wrote a blog called The Artist’s Torah. Ebenbach is an artist, a writer who creates worlds with words, and his teaching about this portion has stayed with me.

Ebenbach sees the second version of the Ten Commandments through the lens of a writer. In this view, it is a revised draft. He writes: “Those of us who are not God know that our first drafts are anything but finished.”

What a radical idea rests in his words: God’s first utterance of the Ten Commandments was a first draft and that, perhaps, changes or additions would need to be made. Even more radical: that God’s first attempts aren’t perfect. This calls to mind the teaching from the Zohar that God created multiple worlds and destroyed them until this world was brought into existence.

We all create. It may not be with words, music dance or paint, but we all create drafts. All of life is a draft that we can continue to edit, refine or alter.

David Ebenbach concludes: “It makes sense that creators would go back over things that seemed closed at first and open them up again.” See the Torah as an invitation to open up what might be closed in your life, and try again.

Questions for reflection

What in your life needs opening up?

What would you start today if you told yourself it was just a first draft?

Rabbi Esther L. Lederman is the director of congregational innovation at the Union for Reform Judaism and a member of Temple Micah.

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